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  • KISS of Death – Pretty Boy Floyd Pays Tribute to One of Classic Hard Rock’s Most Iconic Bands…. With Mixed Results

    KISS of Death is a KISS tribute CD by Pretty Boy Floyd, first released in 2010 and reissued in 2015.
    KISS of Death is a KISS tribute CD by Pretty Boy Floyd, first released in 2010 and reissued in 2015.

     

     

    No matter who you are in the rock and roll world, the influence of KISS is undeniable. Since 1974, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, and many other members of the group have been releasing some of the best classic hard rock the world has ever known. It is no surprise that countless bands cite them as a major influence, and in some cases, the reason they wanted to become rock and rollers to begin with.

    Pretty Boy Floyd was a band that came along late in the 80s glam/hair scene, and is best known for their classic 1989 debut record, Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz. “Wild Angels” and “Rock and Roll (Is Gonna Set the Night on Fire)” were both major hits fondly remembered by fans of the era’s music. A reunited version of the band has been going strong, featuring long time members Steve Summers and Kristy Majors.

    Pretty Boy Floyd is yet another band to acknowledge their being influenced by KISS, and they have decided to do this in the form of a tribute CD, covering 15 of the most classic KISS cuts of all.

    It is not uncommon to get classic bands doing entire CDs of covers these days, but it is very rare you get just one band using an entire CD to pay tribute to only one other band. That said, the influence KISS has had on the world of music is widespread enough that it comes as no surprise that if Pretty Boy Floyd was going to do a tribute to any band, it would be the hottest band in the land!

    Interestingly, even though this is being marketed as a “new” album with different cover art, it was actually available via the band’s website (with a different cover) as early as 2010. It is not clear as to why the album was reissued or is being marketed as such.

    So how does this release actually measure up? An album like this is tough to review because there is not really anything to compare it to. Do you compare it to other Pretty Boy Floyd albums? Other KISS tribute records? The original KISS songs? For what it is, this is a pretty good release, but not a great one.

    The best part of this release is the tracklist. Many of the big hits are covered here, but the Pretty Boy Floyd boys are smart enough to not follow the clichéd path of simply playing the big hits and nothing else. Sure, you’ll hear “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud,” and “Strutter,” but you have to give the band credit for digging deeper and giving us “King of the Night Time World,” “Goin’ Blind,” and even “Room Service!” A diverse setlist is one of the best things this album has to offer. Fans will be inclined to agree.

    As for the actual performances of these songs themselves, it is what it is. The covers just feel pretty straightforward and predictable, despite the solid selection of what tracks are played. Steve Summers’ voice is never going to be mistaken for any member of KISS, and may actually deter KISS fans who are not Pretty Boy Floyd fans. That said, his vocals at least help the tracks to sound different from the originals, but all other aspects here just fall flat. While I do not believe the reviews out there that lambaste this release and claim “Summers is just doing karaoke to the actual KISS tracks,” the band does not really “take ownership” of the songs and do enough of their own thing. I am pleased when bands cover the songs of their heroes, but they need to find a way to leave their stamp on things, and the band simply does not do that here. These are faithful covers and definitely solid in their own right, but that is all that they are.

    In the end, it is tough to determine whether or not to recommend this release. The cover versions on here are faithful (aside from Summers’ unique vocal style), but there is nothing truly distinctive or interesting about them. The most curious of Pretty Boy Floyd and/or KISS completists will want to add this to their collection for curiosity’s sake, but everyone else should just stick with the original KISS versions.

     



  • On Through the Night – Def Leppard’s Oft-Forgotten Debut Record!

    On Through the Night was Def Leppard's debut album, released in early 1980.
    On Through the Night was Def Leppard’s debut album, released in early 1980.

     

     

    Every rock and roll story has to start somewhere. In the 1980s, Def Leppard became superstars, fueled by the hit albums Pyromania and Hysteria, which contained some of the most iconic rock songs of the Decade of Decadence. Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, these records are the pinnacle of Leppard’s career, and remain fan favorites. The band is still active, touring and recording, even after incurring a number of tragedies over the years

    The Def Leppard story actually started several years prior, amidst the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). The band was born out of the ashes of an earlier group, Atomic Mass, and after the recordings of some demos and their official debut, The Def Leppard EP, the band recruited new drummer Rick Allen. This early incarnation of the group went into the studio with producer Tom Allom (best known for his work with Judas Priest) to record what would be their first full length record.

     

    Early single with photographs of the band members. RIP Steve Clark
    Early single with photographs of the band members. RIP Steve Clark

     

    For their debut, the band was comprised of vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarists Steve Clark and Pete Willis, bassist Rick Savage, and drummer Rick Allen. Of these musicians, only the guitarists are no longer in the band; Willis was fired for his alcoholism amidst the Pyromania sessions in 1982, and Clark died from a mixture of alcohol and painkillers in early 1991. Allen lost his arm in a car accident on New Years Eve 1984, but through the use of a special kit, learned how to drum one-armed. This early lineup of the band only lasted for the debut and its follow-up, 1981’s High and Dry (though some rhythm parts played by Willis did appear on Pyromania, released after he had been excised from the band).

    Following their rise to popularity, the band more or less disowned their raw debut record, considering it their worst album and one that did not turn out as well as they had hoped, in a sense considering the trilogy of Mutt Lange produced albums their “official” 80s output. And yet, there are legions of fans of this earlier raw and heavy Def Leppard that consider On Through the Night to be an underrated masterpiece. Which camp is right? Is On Through the Night a forgotten classic worth rediscovering, or is the band right about it?

    As a die-hard fan of the NWOBHM, I was very eager to check out On Through the Night, the oft-forgotten album from a band that would go on to become one of the biggest in the world. This record is very raw and underproduced, with a number of flaws in the sound quality (presumably due to a low budget and the conditions under which it was recorded), but raw, heavy, young and hungry, ready to take on the world, this is a radically different band. One that was far less commercial and certainly a far cry from the production that albums like Hysteria world later receive. There are no real hits or sizable singles here. And, you know what?

    This is my favorite Def Leppard album. Hell, this is one of my favorite albums PERIOD.

    It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Def Leppard had continued in this direction, though it would be a likely bet they would not have become the MTV generation superstars that Pyromania and Hysteria later turned them into. What does this debut album, legendary in the hearts of many fans of the band’s pre-commercial breakthrough years, entail in terms of songs?

     

    Many demos from the band later were released on unofficial bootlegs. First Strike is amongst the most popular. Roughly half of these songs were never officially recorded by the band, while the others were rerecorded for On Through the Night. None of the material on this bootleg ever got an official CD release.
    Many demos from the band later were released on unofficial bootlegs. First Strike is amongst the most popular. Roughly half of these songs were never officially recorded by the band, while the others were rerecorded for On Through the Night. None of the material on this bootleg ever got an official CD release.

     

    Despite the rawness, the band is surprisingly diverse on their full-length debut record. The album does not waste any time kicking things off with “Rock Brigade.” This is just a straightforward rocker, and it serves its purpose of hooking the listener if they are looking for a hard and heavy NWOBHM album. “Hello America” is noticeably lighter in sound, and its chorus even uses some keyboards. Despite this, the guitar riffs keep it fairly hard and heavy. The band received a backlash from British fans at the time for this song, thinking that they had sold out and tried to cash in on the American market. But who cares either way? The song kicks ass. “Sorrow is a Woman” may be the best track on the album, with gloomy, melodic verses and an epic chorus that rocks hard. This is the song that should have been legendary, not forgotten by the masses. “It Could Be You” keeps things going with more of the classic, straightforward hard rock that so many fans have come to know the early version of Def Lep for. “Satellite” has some solid rock riffs, and melodic elements keep it interesting and help it to hold its own against the other tracks here. “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down” is Def Leppard’s attempt at epic, musical storytelling, complete with spoken word intro! The gripping story and lyrics, combined with superb instrumentation, make this one a classic for the ages, and the ideal closer for side one.

    Side two of this classic album is launched with “Wasted,” a great hard rocker about the vices of drugs and alcohol. This is one of the more popular cuts here, and it has landed on at least one Def Lep compilation. “Rocks Off” is a rocker about the more attractive aspects of the music business, namely scantily clad female fans. It is a great tune, which was actually rerecorded from the debut EP, though this version adds in a fake audience; a novelty that wears off quickly and renders this one inferior to its original EP counterpart. That is not to say this version does not kick ass in its own right, though! “It Don’t Matter” is a fantastic, guitar-intensive number with some killer early Joe Elliott vocals, particularly in its anthematic chorus. “Answer to the Master” is another competent rocker from this early version of the band, and it is all topped off with “Overture,” one of Def Leppard’s lengthiest and most epic of tracks, fusing melodic and progressive bookend sequences with a hard rocking core section that helps it to rank as one of the most sorely underrated Def Lep songs of all time. Like “Rocks Off,” this one was also rerecorded from the EP.

    Sadly, unlike many of the later Def Leppard albums, this one has never been reissued or remastered. The sound quality is rough in a number of places; some of the early drum/bass riffs of “It Don’t Matter” and the portions of the guitar solo in “Rocks Off” sound particularly atrocious. This one is long overdue for some sort of clean up process (at least as much is allowable by the limitations of the source material), and some bonus tracks; there are plenty of early Def Leppard songs that are very rare and obscure that have never gotten an official CD release, and a multi-disc Deluxe Edition of this album would solve that problem beautifully. Keep your fingers crossed.

    On Through the Night is a kick-ass debut album that features a rawer, heavier Def Leppard than you know. The band is often lumped in with the NWOBHM, but this is their only album that can justifiably be considered a part of that musical movement – I mean that as a compliment of the highest order towards this record, of course! Do you want an NWOBHM album that rocks like no other? Forget everything you thought you knew about Def Leppard, and pick this album up. If it is the hard and heavy you fancy, On Through the Night will not disappoint.

     



  • Live in Toronto 1990! Vintage LA Guns Captured on the Live Stage

    LA Guns' Toronto 1990 is the latest release on CD of a live vintage LA Guns concert.
    LA Guns’ Toronto 1990 is the latest release on CD of a live vintage LA Guns concert.

     

     

    When it comes to the 80s rock scene, no band tops LA Guns. This is a band that has had well over 40 members in its three decade plus history, but no incarnation of the group tops the classic five piece lineup that recorded the first three records, featuring vocalist Phil Lewis, guitarist Tracii Guns, guitarist Mick Cripps, bassist Kelly Nickels, and drummer Steven Riley (who actually joined after the debut was recorded). The current version of the band retains Lewis and Riley, while Guns himself has pursued other projects; he had his own version of the band for a number of years as well.

    The past few months have been an exciting time for LA Guns fans that want to hear the band’s vintage material done up on a live stage. Last year saw the release of a live album recorded in Boston from the band’s classic era, and here they have done us one better, giving us a show from Toronto in 1990! If you are a fan of the group, should you be adding this one to your collection as well?

    Even though LA Guns’ classic studio records were great, one thing no one can deny about LA Guns, past or present, is that they are a great live band. Nowhere is this truer than on the vintage live performances that the group did to promote their first (and best!) three studio records. With the Boston show released on CD last year and now this Toronto release, is this the beginning of an ongoing live LA Guns archival series? Whether it is or not, fans are going to be busy checking out these releases, finding a lot to love around them.

    This is a great concert that any fan of the band is going to be blown away by. Just one look at the tracklist reveals many of the classic hits from the group’s first two records; every tune here is a classic that is beloved by the fans. The high energy live sound prominent throughout will keep the attention of any listener and more than live up to the expectations of a fan. Furthermore, this is that rare live album that actually sounds and feels live, yet has decent audio quality throughout. The live sound on a number of these tracks is a far cry from the sometimes slick studio album production the band received on a number of early releases, and this sound is going to appeal to fans who know what a great live band this is. The between song banter (which features Phil Lewis using the F-word a whole lot!) further adds to the experience and live feel of the album.

    It is hard to say if this release is superior to the live Boston show that was released last year, but there is reason enough that fans of the band will want to pick up both releases; they are NOT merely clones of one another. There is diversity enough in the setlists and performances alike that you will be eager to add both to your collection as a fan of live vintage LA Guns.

    LA Guns kicks ass whether they are in a studio or on a live stage, and the vintage live performances by the band from the late 1980s and early 1990s are the stuff of legend amongst fans. Here you get the ultimate LA Guns lineup delivering what is one of their most legendary concerts; seeing it get a legitimate release is going to be the Holy Grail for any fan of the group! Absolute highest recommendation for any fan of the band.

     

    NOTE: The above is a classic music video from the band, and not content from this live CD.



  • London 1980 – Rare, Vintage Girlschool Concert Gets a Legitimate CD Release!

    London 1980 marks the legitimate release of a frequently bootlegged concert from Girlschool's infancy.
    London 1980 marks the legitimate release of a frequently bootlegged concert from Girlschool’s infancy.

     

     

    When it comes to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, one of the true stand-out groups from the era was Girlschool. This all female band demonstrated time and time again that they were capable of kicking ass on stage and in the studio, and were every bit as musically capable as their male peers were. The band has persevered to this day in varying incarnations; the current version of the band contains three fourths of the group’s classic NWOBHM breakthrough lineup. With tour dates on the way (including one out here in Vegas in May!), they remain active and popular, and maintain a worldwide following.

    1980 saw the release of Girlschool’s first album, Demolition. This release, London 1980, is a vintage concert recorded in 1980 following the release of said album, when the band was beginning their rise in popularity, having just put out that first full length studio release. release. For the first time ever, this classic concert is getting a legitimate release. Is this a must own for Girlschool fans, or a concert that should have stayed in the vaults?

    According to a number of websites, this concert has been bootlegged for years, so it is good to see that it is getting an official release. The sound quality on here is a little rough in places, but this is to be expected given the age and the nature of the material itself. I do not have those older bootleg releases to compare this to, but based on what I am hearing here, it has most likely been mastered and cleaned up to the greatest extent possible. The result is a solid, raw release that captures the band in their infancy, young and hungry and ready to take on the world. The between song banter only adds to the experience and makes it feel all the more “real” and “live.”

    There have been live Girlschool albums before, but London 1980 might just be the new definitive one. It is very short, clocking in at just over half an hour, but it actually sounds and feels live; there is no greater praise than that. The setlist, naturally, is primarily comprised of tracks from the Demolition LP, but there are a few others thrown in on here that would later appear on the sophomore album, Hit and Run. These are great, high energy performances of some of the best Girlschool songs, featuring the band in their absolute prime. Any fan of the band or the NWOBHM in general is going to adore this release.

    As was previously stated, the audio quality on this release is a little rough, so do not come in here expecting a pristine recording or one that has been overly mastered or cleaned up in the studio. That said, the end result does put the quality of many raw NWOBHM scene live releases and bootlegs to shame. There are official live albums from other bands from the same musical movement on which the audio quality is far inferior to this release. The only other minor issue worth addressing here is the short length. At just over half an hour it will leave you wanting more. It would have been great if there were some bonus tracks included; performances from another show of different songs; studio demos, BBC sessions, outtakes, rehearsals, anything really. It is a fantastic show but some bonus content would have been nice.

    It is short and raw, but it is Girlschool in their prime, and for that reason London 1980 comes highly recommended to fans.

     

    Note: This video is an early promo video for the band’s cover of “Race with the Devil.” It is not a live recording from this CD.



  • Riverdogs – Oft-forgotten Vivian Campbell Band’s Debut Gets the Rock Candy Treatment!

    Riverdogs is the debut album from the group of the same name. originally released in 1990. Rock Candy reissued the album in 2015.
    Riverdogs is the debut album from the group of the same name, originally released in 1990. Rock Candy reissued the album in 2015.

     

     

    It is a shame you do not see Vivian Campbell’s name on more “greatest guitarists” list. This guy is underrated as hell and has many great facets of his career that are largely unknown to the general public. He is widely known for his role as the original guitar player in Dio, having appeared on the first three studio records, and having served as Def Leppard’s guitarist since 1992. But there are other phases of his career that are criminally overlooked and forgotten. Sweet Savage. Shadow King, and this band – Riverdogs, to name a few. Campbell, who had just played with both Whitesnake and Lou Gramm, ended up joining the Riverdogs after producing their demo and being impressed by what they had to offer.

    For the unfamiliar, Rock Candy Records is a company that specializes in the reissue of classic rock/metal/AOR albums, from the mega hits of the era to obscurities alike. One of the best things about this company is that they dig deep to give listeners oft-forgotten releases that would not get a second chance with many a listener otherwise. Of course, I was ecstatic when I heard the label would be giving the Riverdogs’ debut this treatment, allowing me to finally hear a Vivian Campbell release with which I was only vaguely familiar with in the past.

    After giving this album a listen, there is only one question going through my head – why was this album not a bigger hit when released? Perhaps the timing for this style of music was simply wrong; this was the tail end of the glam era where the labels were signing up every “hair band” they could find, and subsequently saturating the genre. Perhaps that is why something more bluesy and classic hard rock styled like the Riverdogs debut was so wrongfully neglected upon its initial release. Regime changes behind the scenes at the record label are also said to have played a part in the album’s lack of commercial recognition. Whatever the reason, people all around the world missed out on some great music (which has thankfully gotten a long overdue reissue in the form of this CD set).

    One interesting thing about Vivian Campbell’s music is that no two bands he plays in are usually alike. The Riverdogs were no exception to this rule, being closer to a classic rock/bluesy rock sound than most of what was going on in the music industry at the time. This did not stop Campbell and company from recording one of the best albums of the era, with no shortage of anthems that should have gotten far more radio play. As it stands, this is one of the most criminally underrated rock records released by one of the industry’s greatest and most diverse guitarists, and it is definitely worth rediscovering, or discovering for the first time.

    Rock Candy has done some quality reissues in recent years, but has really stepped up their game this time around. One complaint about past Rock Candy reissues was the lack of audio bonus material on a number of the releases. They more than rectify that here; you get an entire second disc’s worth of bonuses! In additional to a non-LP B-side, you also get several rare radio sessions. Any fan of the album/band is going to enjoy listening to these, further adding to the list of reasons you need this reissue in your collection.

    It is great to see Rock Candy giving another lost classic its just dues. This is a phenomenal rock album from a time when it was criminally overlooked and not given the credit it deserved. Any classic rock/hard rock fan will be doing themselves a favor adding this release to their collections; the bonus disc’s supplements only further add to the experience. This oft-forgotten classic in its newly reissued and remastered form comes strongly recommended!